SI's first poll of major league baseball players in 20 years—the results of which appear on page 52—was like a very elaborate game of 20 questions. First, baseball editor Larry Burke came up with the 20 queries he wanted posed. Then News Bureau manager Douglas F. Goodman sent a packet of questionnaires—in English and Spanish—to each of SI's 30 major league stringers. They, in turn, approached every big league player, 550 of whom responded.
The completed questionnaires were returned to the office, where they were assigned a reference number (to preserve the players' anonymity) by senior editor Richard Demak and sent to Marketing & Research Resources. Then the real fun began. "They spit back forests of data based on things like position, college and birthplace," says Demak. A team of writers sifted through the material for the most interesting results. "We always write about what we think the best park is or who has the best arm," says Demak, "but it's nice to hear from the people who actually play the game."
For his story on the decline of African-Americans in the big leagues (page 56), senior writer Tom Verducci decided to get in touch with Dwight Gooden, whom he had covered during the pitcher's golden days with the Mets, when there were roughly twice as many black ballplayers in the majors as there are today. "Dwight encompasses what this story is all about," says Verducci. "He's a product of what was one of the most fertile grounds in Florida for African-American ballplayers—and he's very insightful." Insightful and hard to get hold of. Verducci left several messages at the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, where the onetime ace works as a pitching coach, and didn't get a call back. Undaunted, Verducci hopped a plane and showed up at the complex, where a receptionist told him Gooden rarely checks his phone messages and wouldn't be off the field for a while. "So I'm sitting on a curb, looking like a little lost soul," recalls Verducci, "and who should arrive but George Steinbrenner." When the surprised owner heard what Verducci was doing there, he said, "Come with me"—and ushered the writer into the coaches' locker room. There was Gooden filling out paperwork. "See, Dwight," Verducci said, "I don't mess around. I want to talk to you, I bring nobody less than the Boss!" Gooden laughed and said, "With you I don't expect anything less." Hours later, when the two finished talking, Verducci had, he says, "a wealth of information on why Dwight's success didn't inspire more Gooden wannabes."